UT Elementary graduates first class of fifth graders

The first class of fifth grade Little Longhorns from UT Elementary School graduated Wednesday night amid more than 200 proud family members, a few tears and many dreams for the future.

As each of the 35 students were called to accept their white graduation stoles their hopes for future careers and colleges were announced. Among the students are future veterinarians, teachers, professional athletes, engineers, police officers and fashion designers, and almost all have dreams of attending The University of Texas at Austin. A handful were set apart by setting their sights on the University of Hawaii, Cambridge, Cal Tech and the University of Tennessee.

Mikayla Ruvalcaba aspires to be a singer and demonstrated her musical talents when the class performed a song she wrote for the evening. In addition to Ruvalcaba's song the group performed a second piece that included a line about acing the Texas Academic Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test.

The fifth graders earned a 100 percent passing rate in reading and 97 percent passing rate in math for 2008 in the TAKS tests. The scores for the students, most of whom were among the first enrolled when the research-based demonstration school affiliated with the university opened its doors in fall 2003, compare to average statewide fifth-grade scores of 83 percent in reading and math.

University President William Powers Jr., University Co-op Bookstore President George Mitchell and Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent spoke words of encouragement during the ceremony.

"This is one of those nights that makes your heart sing. It's a tremendous night for our community," Powers said. "The day will come when we will have a Little Longhorn become a big Longhorn on our campus. It'll be another day to make our hearts sing at the University of Texas."

Mitchell, a beloved member of the UT Elementary family known as grandpa to the students, also spoke to the graduates and brought gifts for each student.

"I hope someday I'll be at your graduation at UT and as usual I'll have something for each of you," he said. Mitchell gave each graduate a $25 gift card along with a Longhorn backpack. "It has papers and pens in it to help you at your next school," he said.

The evening was also a chance to thank the school's principals, Ramona Trevino and Melissa Chavez, the teachers, parents, volunteers, donors and supporters of the school who have helped it succeed.

Trevino said students who attend UT Elementary are largely minority and low-income, and most of them will be first-generation college students.

"It is amazing how we have watched the Little Longhorns grow over the past five years, socially, emotionally and in their academic careers," Trevino said.

The students will attend middle schools next year in the Austin Independent School District or local magnet middle schools, including Fulmore, Kealing, or the new Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.